How-to Check for Comprehension: Middle Grades


Comprehension, quite simply, indicates a person’s ability to understand something. Simply by existing, humans are constantly receiving input and information, analyzing it, and (hopefully) making sense of it. Something that is done so automatically and continuously should be easy, right? Not always. Herein lies the issue, especially when it comes to the middle school child—adolescents often think that they know everything, and/or, they completely disregard anything that confuses them. The “if I ignore it, it will cease to exist” mentality unfortunately only works to create more confusion. This is why self-checking for comprehension is a necessary skill for middle schoolers to learn to employ.

Trust me, comprehension will be assessed at great lengths throughout middle and high school. Between the standardized testing, regular assignments, and lengthy book reports, formative comprehension checks will become a routine as students make their way through their schooling. In order for students to recognize whether they have comprehended something or not, it is important for them to begin to actively question themselves as a learner. But what does this look like? Here are a few strategies that middle schoolers should employ to check for their own comprehension.

Can I summarize that reading? A summary should consist of the key points, major details, and take-aways from the entire reading as a whole. If a middle schooler is not able to adequately present a holistic view of the key moments from a text, he or she has not fully comprehended it.

Did I understand all of the vocabulary that I encountered? This question goes back to the issue of disregarding information that is confusing. When stumbling through a reading where vocabulary presents an issue with comprehension, students’ typical reaction is to plow through, ignoring the terms or phrases that they do not understand. This is an obvious sign that the middle schooler is not fully comprehending the text. As annoying as they may find this to be, middle schoolers should get in the habit of searching and defining unfamiliar words as they read or work.

Can I comment, question, or critique anything from this reading? Again, this practice is often met with moans and groans. “As if reading the text is not difficult enough, they now want me to analyze it?!” Yes. If a middle schooler does not have anything to add or consider after finishing a text, then their comprehension is questionable. Highlighting and taking margin notes will help when it comes to critiquing the text. Be sure that your middle schooler knows why he or she highlighted a certain section. Again, if they are able to pinpoint key moments or question the text, chances are the comprehension piece is intact.

Was my focus on the text the whole time? This question is one that even adults struggle to answer on occasion. If readers arrive at the bottom of the page only to discover that they were thinking about what to eat for dinner, then the focus was disrupted. Without focusing on the text, there is no way to fully comprehend its meaning.

Try implementing one or more of these strategies the next time your middle schooler completes a reading assignment. You may both be surprised to see how a few extra minutes of reflection can greatly enhance comprehension!